Link Analysis for Fraud Detection: How Linkurious enabled investigation of the massive Panama Papers leaks

Linkurious is a partner of the International Investigative Journalist Consortium (ICIJ) since the Swiss Leaks scandal. ICIJ network of 370 journalists is using Linkurious to investigate the Panama Papers. Learn the inside story of the biggest data leak investigation in history.

By Sebastien Heymann, Linkurious.

Turning leaked documents into exploitable data

At the end of 2014, an anonymous source contacted a Suddeutsche Zeitung journalist, offering to leak the data of a shady legal firm based in Panama called Mossack Fonseca. More than 11.5 million documents were sent, encrypted. to the Suddeutsche Zeitung, representing around 2.6 terabytes of data, documenting 214,488 offshore structures that were created and administered by Mossack Fonseca between 1977 and 2015. Internal and external communication, all of the firm’s databases, scanned documents: nearly all the documents ever created and collected by Mossack Fonseca over the years were leaked, according to Gerard Ryle.


Source: Le Monde

Suddeutsche Zeitung quickly realised it could not handle the exploitation of such massive amounts of data on its own and decided to get ICIJ on board. ICIJ had already demonstrated its ability to coordinate worldwide investigations numerous times in the past with the Offshore Leaks, the Lux Leaks and more recently the Swiss Leaks, for which they deployed Linkurious Enterprise. ICIJ mobilised “around 370 independent journalists from more than 100 media partners in over 80 countries”.

The initial challenge for ICIJ and the Suddeutsche Zeitung was to make these massive amounts of data exploitable by their network of investigative journalists around the world. This implied turning 11.5 unstructured million documents into something meaningful for journalist investigators.

Through its Data & Research unit, ICIJ provided the data analysis expertise to make the documents exploitable by reporters. They extracted the metadata of documents using Apache Solr and Tika, then connected all the information together using the leaked databases, creating a graph of nodes and edges. The data was stored in the Neo4j graph database edited by our partner Neo Technology. The result provides unique insights into the offshore banking world showing the relationships between banks, clients, offshore companies and their lawyers. This graph includes the numerous public personalities worldwide who have used Mossack Fonseca’s services such as Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, the current Prime Minister of Iceland, or Vladimir Putin’s close associates among others.

How Gunnlaugsson hides his secret assets.

Shedding light on the offshore world

Once the database was created, ICIJ could start making it available to the different investigative teams globally. But their last challenge was to make the data exploration accessible to non tech-savvy investigators in a easy, secure and collaborative way. This is where Linkurious came in. Linkurious provided a simple and powerful interface that hundreds of investigative journalists around the world are using to carry out their investigation.

Linkurious Enterprise was the best solution to make the data available to our global network of more than 370 journalists. It enabled them to uncover persons of interest and potential stories in a short timeframe. Using the collaboration features and intuitive interface of Linkurious, they were able to easily expose many complex offshore structures and financial crimes“, Mar Cabra, Data Editor at ICIJ explains.

Using Linkurious, journalists were able to easily explore the connections of the entities they were investigating and expose the complex financial structures mounted by Mossack Fonseca’s clients to cover up their financial crimes. The interface of Linkurious Enterprise also allowed ICIJ’s journalists to share visualizations and collaborate throughout the investigation. Finally Linkurious Enterprise provided security features particularly important for journalists working in countries where reporting on a political scandal could have dire consequences.

We wanted to protect the identity of our journalists and make sure our data would not end up in the wrong hands. This was particularly difficult as we are exposing political figures in countries where the freedom of press is all but guaranteed. Linkurious Enterprise allowed us to work securely while working in around 80 countries

Cabra comments.

The network of middlemen and companies hiding Putin’s wealth

The methodology used by the journalists is quite simple, they compiled lists of high profile individuals (politicians, criminals, VIPs) and their first circle. They then tried to identify links between these individuals and offshore entities. Linkurious enabled them to connect the dots together and rapidly do fact checking.

When the time came to publish the story, ICIJ used the Linkurious Enterprise API to create and embed graph visualizations into its article. This way readers around the world could quickly grasp the complexities of the financial networks unmasked by ICIJ.

Using Linkurious with the Neo4j graph database is a powerful combination to detect and investigate fraud or money laundering schemes. Linkurious helps investigators easily identify and analyze suspicious connections to fight fraud. The whole Panama Papers data will be released in early May with Linkurious. Follow the stories!

About Linkurious

Linkurious helps organizations use their data to uncover relationships among people, places, things, and entities. It provides new capabilities to extract information from large and complex datasets. Linkurious helps organizations like NASA, the French Ministry of Finances or various Fortune 500 companies in fraud detection, network management, cyber-security or medical research.

Today, Linkurious Enterprise makes graph visualization accessible to all organizations through an easy-to-use interface. Compatible with Neo4j and other graph databases, Linkurious Enterprise is an on-premise platform that allows users to interact with their data to investigate patterns, discover hidden insights and reveal opportunities through visual querying. Organizations can quickly unlock the value of their graph data with a platform that includes security and collaboration features.